The country’s largest red light area, Sonagachi, is among the most unlikely ones hit by the Goods and Services Tax brought into effect by the government on July 1, 2017.
On the one hand, the sex workers are delighted for the zero per cent tax on condoms, and on the other hand, an 18 per cent GST on sanitary napkins has dispirited them.
The Usha Multipurpose Co-operative Society Limited, a co-operative bank managed by sex workers, provides subsidized condoms and sanitary napkins to thousands of their companions. The co-operative bank is a part of Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee, a community-based organization for sex workers, and has more than 30 thousand members belonging to Sonagachi and other red light areas of the state.
Prior to GST coming into effect, the bank used to buy sanitary napkins from companies at special discounts and sold them to its members at subsidized rates. However, with 18 per cent GST levied on sanitary napkins, the companies have refused to sell them on discounts. Therefore, the prices at which they can now be sold to the sex workers will rise significantly.
The Indian Express quotes one of the sex workers saying,
Condoms are our lifeline, and it is good that there is no GST on them. But now, they are saying that napkin prices will go up. I don’t understand GST… but already, clients are less… some girls may not be keen on using napkins, and make do with cloth to save money.
The bank plans to further bring down the price of condoms after discussions with the companies but the rise in the price of sanitary napkins has certainly sent a wave of shock through the entire community.
With many poor sex workers depending upon the subsidized napkins provided by the Usha Multipurpose Co-operative Society, the chances of their not using the napkins are quite high. This makes the bank officials feel that the thousands of members now face the risk of health hazards posed by not using sanitary napkins.
However, what these officials need to understand and also explain to their members is the fact that this could be a beginning of a new aspect for them where they learn about the health hazards of sanitary napkins which they have considered a safe and healthy option so far.
Researches have revealed that most sanitary napkins are made of plastic, bleached rayon and cotton. These products leave behind fibers which make the female body susceptible to vaginal and bladder infections. The plastic contained in these does not allow the flow of sufficient air to the female organ and hence exposes it to the risk of a wide variety of infections. The chemical named dioxin that is used to bleach the cotton used in the making of these pads can cause serious health hazards such as a weak immune system, pelvic inflammatory disease, ovarian cancer, diabetes, hormone dysfunction and many others.
Therefore, this is the right time to switch to organic, environment friendly, re-usable and body-friendly alternatives of sanitary pads such as cloth pads made with cotton, hemp or bamboo, or menstrual cups.
These are the products that most women in India are not aware of but this is the time to accept the challenge to adopt these means of menstrual hygiene, and convince and educate other women to do the same!